Not a working day goes by without London interference in local decision-making. What makes the UK such a desolate place to live is that this interference is so widely accepted, at best as something that cannot be changed, at worst as something entirely natural, a system under which London provides ‘leadership’ for a grateful nation.
It is, ultimately, an assault upon democracy. Because if locally elected representatives cannot be trusted to make the correct decisions, and regionally elected ones are dismissed as more of the same, how is it that nationally or internationally elected representatives suddenly acquire the wisdom to do things so much better? Or is it just that they are more easily swayed by the moneybags, and by the high life in London or Brussels?
Is it the schools that ministers and their civil servants come from that give them the assumed right to overturn the supposedly narrow judgments of parish and shire? Not always. Labour ministers, even those that come from the comprehensives, are actually far more contemptuous of local choice. Theirs is the legacy of vanguardism, Lenin’s idea that the working class are too thick not to have rings run round them and so need the protection of a party elite. Hence, for example, Labour’s opposition to proportional representation. Bugger democracy, let’s get the Labour man (or woman) in. From its Jacobin and Christian Socialist traditions, Labour has also inherited the idea that everyone is equal, and therefore that difference cannot be tolerated. The One True Answer is to be imposed nationally through centralism and ideally through a globalised tyranny. Labour’s refusal to take issue with multi-national capitalism is entirely explicable in terms of its desire to break down borders and eliminate diversity.
Regardless of party, the London machine is dismissive of ‘Lilliputian’ local concerns. It has an empire to run. Yet cannot see that its own concerns are Lilliputian in global terms. It’s a paradox for which it will heartily die in a ditch. No foreigner may tell Britannia what to do. But Britannia’s trident may poke each and every peasant who isn’t on-message.
There is a long-established view that ‘the Army is the State’, and therefore that states, in return for maintaining external security, have the right to demand internal subservience. It’s a doctrine that has no place in a real democracy, where the government serves the citizens and not the other way round. And yet it lingers. The idea of military conflict, or even a fundamental economic disagreement, with France or Germany is now unthinkable. Despite this, we are still ruled by a class of classicists who see it as their job to maintain the balance of power within Europe and to make whatever mischief is necessary to achieve this. Talent being lost from London to Frankfurt or Geneva is a national crisis. Talent being lost from Newcastle or Plymouth to London is not.
Desperate unionists recently launched the ‘No Borders’ campaign to stop the UK ‘sleepwalking into separation’. It’s certainly a canny choice of name, appealing to all that imaginative generation of hippies who know their John Lennon. The problem is that a world without borders is not a world without orders. Somewhere in the borderless society resides the power to make decisions. Borders between countries – and boundaries between regions, shires and parishes – are what prevent that power gravitating to one point. The Left didn’t listen; they insisted it was all about class and not really about geography. And what they got was Stalin and Mao. The Right didn’t listen; they insisted it was all about individual enterprise and not really about the freedom of vast, often inherited wealth to flee where it pleases.
Lines on maps often appear arbitrary, and sometimes are. But without them, there is no escape from either arbitrary government or arbitrary finance, or possibly both, as a corporatist cocktail. That is why we need many more lines on maps, and why they need to mean more, both in practical terms and within the ideologies that defend them.
Borders get a bad press that associates them with chauvinism and racism. Really? You may as well refuse to drive a car because it might, just might, crash and kill somebody. You can have borders and still have free movement across them: how liberal or restrictive an immigration policy should be is a matter of day-to-day politics, not necessarily something enshrined in the constitution. Without borders, you don’t have the choice of making a choice. There is a positive narrative to be championed about borders and boundaries, about how they secure freedom and democracy by excluding outside interference in the life of the community. For that narrative to be free of hypocrisy, it is not enough to champion borders alone. The boundaries that define local and regional autonomy are still more worthy of respect because it is within such communities that democratic values are learned and treasured. Reduce democracy to a mass that benefits the big battalions, where there is no real debate and only the viral trending of donor-sponsored soundbites, and it ceases to be democracy.